**UPDATED with online show link.**
MTV’s True Life series decided to cover food allergies. [Disclosure: they came to me in October last year asking if I could recommend any teens with food allergies for this show; I sent them to FAAN’s Teen program.] The show aired last night. You will be able to watch it online now.
First off, many thanks to the brave Raelyn and Zeke –these are the high schoolers MTV followed. They and their families were generous enough to allow us in to their lives, their struggles, their concerns and their hopes. Thank you again. Secondly, as a reality show, this program pulls for the extremes and they picked two atypical examples of food allergic disease: Zeke has Eosinophilic Esophagitis and Raelyn has idiopathic anahylaxis.
Eosinophilic Esophagitis or EE (or EoE) is, accrording to the University of Michigan: "a chronic disorder of the digestive system in which large numbers of a particular type of white blood cell called eosinophils are present in the esophagus. the esophagus is the tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach. Eosinophils are an important part of the immune system and play a role in fighting infection. This condition is characterized by vomiting, stomach or chest pain, failure to thrive (particularly in children), and difficulty swallowing."
Eosinophilic Esophagitis is a serious condition that is under the rubric of allergic disease but not a classic food allergy. However, Zeke’s segments follow a relatively typical medically approved path: visits to his board certified allergist in the hospital for scratch and skin testing (and resultant reactions), food challenges in the hospital and under supervision, endoscopy and biopsy of the esophagus, and more food trails after the all clear sign. We see him being bullied and we see him struggling to have a normal life and diet but we also see him following a well-worn and safe medical path to determine how to take small safe steps forward.
Raelyn is given a diagnosis of idiopathic anaphylaxis and in the world of food allergy that is a true gray zone. Idiopathic means that no cause can be determined for anaphylactic reactions. Raelyn’s struggle with this vague diagnosis is very real, as it her anxiety and her wish to be normal. In her segments, we see Raelyn meeting with one of the best allergists in the country: Dr Robert Wood. He tells her that her immune system is going haywire, her anaphylaxis reactions are not coming from an outside source but from within and then he mentions something about her stress levels and trying to control those. (These details are from memory, so they may be faulty.) We do not see her given a clear path toward management. And without a clear answer from the western medical community, Raelyn and her family do what many desperate patients do and turn to alternative methods and practitioners who claim to have the cure.
Bottom line: Right now, there is no cure for food allergies.
What follows is a typical scene of alternative treatment. Raelyn visits a chiropractor who says he can cure her of all of her food allergies. After a month of sessions, he tells her she can reintroduce foods to her diet. She attempts food challenges at home without medical supervision that go dramatically wrong, necessitating a call to 911 and hospital visit. It was disturbing to watch and no, she is not cured.
Did the show raise awareness about food allergies and what our community's families and teens deal with on a daily basis? Will it? I don’t know.
What is clear is that these two teenagers are working valiantly to have normal lives.
My wish? I wish Raelyn would have been given a clear direction from Dr. Wood about how proceed. (As this is a highly contrived reality show, we have no idea if there was medical follow up with Dr. Wood or any other board certified medical provider.) And I wish both teenagers and their families had more support around issues of anxiety and their diagnosis.
Did you see it? Tell me what you thought.